By Robin Garr
Vietnam is a tropical country, mostly. In its southern reaches, around Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and the Mekong Delta, it’s searing hot and sopping humid virtually all year.
So how did a country so torrid give birth to pho, that aromatic, beefy soup-as-entree that’s delicious all year ‘round but lovably warming during winter’s icy blasts?
We could go all nerdy and talk about research showing that hot soups (and fiery spices, too) actually have a cooling effect on hot days. This must be true. I read it on the Internet.
But it’s not summer now. It’s cold, and I don’t need any sciencing to persuade me that a steaming bowl of hearty soup, be it senate bean or French onion or, well, pho, will impart warm comfort on a chilly day.
There’s plenty of good pho to be had among Louisville’s many fine Vietnamese eateries, but Eatz Vietnamese won the nod this time for two good reasons: First, I love its pho. Second, just as important, I haven’t checked out Eatz’s current quarters. It moved in 2022 from a tiny venue on the edge of Germantown to a larger space in Clifton, the former home of Fork & Barrel and, before that, Basa Modern Vietnamese.
The layout of the long narrow room hasn’t changed much through its iterations, and even the sturdy wood-look tables and metal chairs look familiar. Freshly painted white walls and colorful abstract art have brightened the space, though. It’s an attractive place to dine, and the food is good.
The menu is similar to that at the previous location, with reasonable inflation-based price increases since my last visit to the Germantown shop in 2021. In addition to a salad ($3 small, $6 large), a half-dozen appetizers range in price from $6.50 (for deep-fried tofu) to $9 (for flash-fried Vietnamese beef meatballs or the signature fish-sauce fried chicken wings). Four banh mi sandwiches are $9 or $11.
Nine entrees start at $10 (for basic fried rice, which goes up in price a few dollars for the optional addition of meats or tofu). Entrees, mostly priced in the teens, top out at $20 (for com dac diet, a bento box with pork, shrimp, eggs and vegetables) and $28 (for bo luc lac, Vietnamese “shaking” beef filet mignon).
A two-piece order of Vietnamese-style spring rolls wrapped in translucent rice paper ($8) was impressive in size and construction. It’s available either with stuffed with shrimp and pork or made plant-based with fried tofu.
They’re served sliced in half, cut edge upward so you can behold how carefully they are prepared. Inside there’s a plank of perfectly fried tofu, firm and browned on the outside, creamy white within. There’s also a bundle of carefully cut quick-pickled carrot julienne, tender rice noodles, crisp cucumber, and dark green lettuce spring mix. It’s plated atop more carrots and a big basil leaf and a tub of peanut sauce.
Pho ($15), described as the restaurant’s specialty, is built on a long-simmered, ginger-and-onion scented beef bone broth loaded with thin rice noodles and scallions, to which you may add beef slices, meatballs, beef tendon, beef tripe, brisket, chicken tenders, or tofu; for an upcharge you may increase those meats or add filet mignon, short ribs, or shrimp. In traditional Vietnamese fashion it’s served with a side plate full of bean sprouts, Thai basil, cilantro leaves, jalapeno slices, and lime wedges so you can add flavors to your liking
We summoned the standard version with beef slices, which came with a generous clump of noodles submerged in the broth. Fun fact: Pho, like other similar Asian dishes, is not considered soup but a noodle dish in broth. Floating on top was a good-size stack of thin raw beef slices that gradually cook in the hot broth. The bone broth was just as delicious as ever, a true, rich bone broth a gentle anise hint of five-spice. Thin slices of green onion and tiny cilantro leaves also float on top in a pretty display.
Bun Thit Nuong ($14), a South Vietnamese pork loin noodle dish, is traditionally made with grilled pork loin, but it’s also one of Eatz’s dishes available in a vegetarian alternative. That’s accomplished by substituting chewy cubes of tofu for the pork and leaving out the house-blended fish sauce that’s customary in the carnivorous version.
A salad-like noodle dish served warm in an attractive deep black bowl, it starts with a bed of vermicelli rice noodles composed with a variety of toppings: Inch-square fried tofu cubes, pickled julienne carrot, shredded radish, crisp cucumber, and chopped peanuts, with basil leaves and fresh spring mix salad on the side. Pour on the spicy soy-based dressing that comes alongside, stir it up, and enjoy!
With hot Vietnamese coffee ($5), not dripped at the table but made in the kitchen and served in a diner-style mug, our meal for two came to $44.52, plus a $9 tip.
Noise Level: With the room about half-filled and soft music on the sound system, the average sound level was 63.9dB, no barrier to normal conversation.
Accessibility: The front door is up two tall steps, but there’s wheelchair access from the parking area behind the building. The dining area and restrooms appear fully accessible.